November 23, 2017

Exploring the Legacy of Midcentury Architectural Firm Pereira & Luckman

William Pereira and Charles Luckman made a formidable team when they formed their architectural firm, Pereira & Luckman, in Los Angeles in 1950.

Two decades earlier, they were classmates at the University of Illinois’ School of Architecture, and went on to make names for themselves after graduating. Pereira designed movie theaters around the country and a Hollywood studio for Paramount, and made a brief foray into the film industry. Luckman worked in sales and was later named the president of manufacturing company Lever Brothers.

They found enormous success together in their Los Angeles firm, securing commissions from around the country and growing Pereira & Luckman into an office of more than 300 architects. Their clients included NASA, Los Angeles International Airport, and Hilton Hotels, as well as hospitals, television studios, and U.S. Air Force and Navy facilities.

The firm dissolved in 1958, but both continued to be giants in their field. Pereira, most notably, designed the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco in 1972, and Luckman’s firm Charles Luckman Associates designed Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1968.

Pereira & Luckman designed buildings all around the country—you read about their work for Farmers & Stockmens Bank in Phoenix in the Fall 2017 issue of Preservation magazine—but here we take a look at four of their Southern California buildings.

LAX Theme Building

photo by: Todd Lappin/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building

One of Los Angeles’ most iconic buildings, the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport was a joint venture between Pereira & Luckman, Welton Becket and Associates, and Paul R. Williams.

The Space Age structure was completed in 1961 for a cost of $2.2 million. Since then, it’s been described as a spider or a spaceship, and it’s often been mistaken for the airport’s control towers. But for many years, it housed an observation deck and restaurant towering 80 feet above the ground, offering 360-degree views of the airport below.

The city designated the building a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1993. It underwent extensive repairs and seismic retrofitting in 2007. In early 2014, it was announced that its restaurant, Encounter, closed.

CBS Television City

photo by: Eric E Johnson/Konomark

CBS Television City

Columbia Broadcasting Systems, or CBS, tapped Pereira & Luckman to design their massive headquarters at the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. Completed in 1952, the International Style complex contained offices, studios, sound stages, editing rooms, rehearsal spaces, shops, and storage areas, and was one of the first complexes built specifically for television production.

The exterior of the building is relatively simple, with a flat roof and walls of glass and stucco. But inside is a fully flexible space, where studio walls can be arranged into new configurations to suit the needs of different productions.

Numerous iconic shows have been taped at this facility, including The Jack Benny Program, All in the Family, Maude, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Bold and the Beautiful. Today, shows like The Price Is Right and The Late Late Show with James Corden are still filmed there.

In September 2017, it was announced CBS Corporation is considering selling the property.

Robinson's Palm Springs

photo by: Lance Gerber Studio

J.W. Robinson Company Department Store—Palm Springs

Department store chain J.W. Robinson Company was founded in Los Angeles in 1883. It had stores in downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and in 1958, it opened its third location in Palm Springs, California.

Located at the corner of South Palm Canyon Drive and West Baristo Avenue, it’s much smaller than the first two Robinson’s stores—it was originally intended to open only during the winter months.

The Modernist, concrete slab structure is set back from the palm tree-lined street by four long, horizontal steps and features a glass facade, deep overhangs, and a long, flat roof. The same year it opened, the store received the American Institute of Architects’ “First Honor Award.”

After the department store vacated the building, it was for many years The Alley, a home decor and furniture store. That business closed in January 2016. A full restoration was completed by Palm Springs-based James Cioffi Architect in October 2016, and today one of the tenants inside the building is beverage retailer BevMo.

Robinson's Pasadena

J.W. Robinson Company Department Store—Pasadena

Later that same year that J.W. Robinson Company opened its Palm Springs location, it opened its fourth store in Pasadena, California. Once again, they tapped Pereira & Luckman to design the building.

The firm designed the three-store store, which spanned an entire city block along the city’s busy Colorado Boulevard. It was a monumental, blocky structure, made of painted brick, terrazzo panels, tiles, and concrete, with a three-story parking lot in the back.

In 1993, the store was converted into a Target.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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